09. We know so much yet so little

By Kap Kirwok

November 24th 2012

Fear and hope. Doubt and conviction. The human mind, it seems, comes wired in double and opposite polarity: the negative is always twined to the positive. Fear and doubt play constant ping pong with hope and conviction.

Today, we fear and doubt: will the current wave of insecurity sweeping through the country metastise like a cancer and engulf the whole country? Or, will hope and conviction triumph?

As a country, we are on the cusp of multiple breakthroughs, hence the intensity of the anxieties. In the governance front, progressive forces have been gaining ground. In the economic arena, the promise of oil and gas against the backdrop of increasing sophistication in business, innovation and technology, in a continent that is steadily integrating, is giving birth to a new dynamism.

With a little foresight, a little resilience and fortitude, we could cross over. And yet again, there is the constant danger of implosion brought home by on-going ethnic competition for political power and the recent spate of security incidents.

In a real way, we are paying the price of corruption and absent-minded leadership which, over the last two decades, has allowed the trickle of illegal arms across the 632-kilometer border with Somalia to turn into a flood.
Are recent security incidents insignificant exceptions in an otherwise bright, longterm outlook? What does the future portend for Africa – in deed for the world?

How wonderful it would be if we had insight and foresight into the future.

A new book, the Fastest Billion: The Story Behind Africa’s Revolution by Rennanaissance Capital tries to provide both insight and foresight with respect to Africa’s future. There are many other such publications, for example, the Global Trends series which is published by the National Intelligence Council of the US every four years.

First, about the Fastest Billion. The authors look into the crystal ball and examine Africa in 2050. What they see is a continent, two billion billion strong, whose economy will have rocketed from $ 2 billion today to $ 29 billion – the fastest growth in history. This is more than the current size of the US and Eurozone economies combined. According to the authors, Africa will achieve this feat by dint of competent exploitation of its rich resource bequest, unleasing its yourthful energy, and learning from past mistakes.

Because of global interconnectedness, the speed of technology diffusion and transfer is such that Africa can ride free on the technology train and leapfrog to the future with relative ease. Germany and United States, the authors point out, copied and improved on United Kingdoms’s technology in the 19th century. Japan did the same more quickly in the 20th century and China has been doing it now for 30 years with spectacular results – racing from the 7th largest economy in the world in 1999 to second position within a decade (by 2010).

The Global Trends 2030 report highlights this phenomenon of copy-and-transform with interesting statistics: “It took Britain 155 years to double GDP per capita, with about 9 million people. The US and Germany took between 30 and 60 years with a few tens of million people . . . but India and China are doing this at a scale and pace not seen before: 100 times the people than Britain and a tenth the time. By 2030 Asia will be well on its way to returning to being the world’s powerhouse, just as it was before 1500.”

It is interesting that just four years ago, the Global Trends 2025 report by the same organization had this to say about Sub-Saharan Africa: “Sub-Saharan Africa will remain the region most vulnerable to economic disruption, population stresses, civil conflict, and political instability. Despite increased global demand for commodities for which Sub-Saharan Africa will be a major supplier; local populations are unlikely to experience significant economic gain.”

Clearly, outcomes can be uncertain – even for futurists!

The uncertainty of future outcomes is amplified by technological innovations. This is a topic for a future column. For now, consider the following futurist technological fixes for food, water and heath challenges. A food pill, long a staple of science fiction, may one day become a reality. A portable personal water purification device is now considered within the realm of possibility and a solution to a key conundrum: 97.5 % of all earth’s water is salty and undrinkable. Robotic surgeons will in future use computer aided tools to repair and replace your organs.

Will all this happen – say by 2050? Quite often we gain deeper insight into the future by looking in the mirror. Do we see a person who, when he gains power or advantage, ‘plays fantastic tricks before high heaven as make angels weep’, to paraphrase Shakespeare?

Note to myself: Be alive in 2050.

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